Tokyo (AFP) Dec 9, 2010
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates will visit China next month, the United States' top military officer said Thursday, in a sign of thawing of strained ties between the countries' militaries.
The trip would come 12 months after China broke off military relations in January over US plans to sell Taiwan more than six billion dollars' worth of arms, including Blackhawk helicopters, Patriot missiles and mine-hunting ships.
"Secretary Gates will visit China next month from the US," Admiral Mike Mullen told a news conference in Tokyo.
"I would hope that we can sustain that military-to-military relationship, as opposed to what it has been, which has been on-and-off over the years, which just doesn't do either one of us... any good," Mullen said.
Mullen is on an Asian tour aimed at showing solidarity with Washington's Asian allies in the wake of North Korea's bombardment of a South Korean island last month that killed two civilians and two marines and destroyed 29 homes.
"I am hopeful that we can get a relationship established between our militaries, where we can have much more fruitful conversations that are much more transparent than has been in the past," Mullen said.
Beijing called off a tentative visit in June but the Pentagon has said the sides were discussing possible dates for a trip.
China's Xinhua news agency said General Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, left for the United States on Thursday to attend a Sino-US defence consultation.
At the news conference, Mullen highlighted China's role in easing tension in the region, saying: "Much of that volatility is owed to the reckless behaviour of the North Korean regime, enabled by their friends in China."
Beijing has come under increasing pressure from the United States and its allies to rein in North Korea following the border incident, which was the first shelling of civilian areas in South Korea since the 1950-53 war.
China is the last major ally of communist North Korea and its lifeline for food and energy aid. Beijing has resisted US calls to pressure Pyongyang to change its ways, instead urging talks with the regime.
North Korea and China proclaimed their unity later Thursday as the North's leader Kim Jong-Il met China's most senior foreign policymaker, Dai Bingguo.
"The two sides reached consensus on bilateral relations and the situation on the Korean peninsula after candid and in-depth talks," said a brief report from China's Xinhua from Pyongyang.
President Barack Obama's administration faces a difficult challenge as it tries to build trust with China while also defending the US naval presence in the Pacific.
US officials and lawmakers are anxious about China's growing military power, including its investments in submarines and anti-ship missiles that could potentially undercut the role of American aircraft carriers.
A recent Pentagon report to Congress said China appeared to be expanding its strategic goals and planning to extend its navy's reach further into the Pacific.
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Outside View: Decision punts
Washington (UPI) Dec 8, 2010
To use a football metaphor, the United States needs an able quarterback in the Oval Office. As three new books out this fall vividly reveal, we have had a punter in that position for some considerable time where fumbling has been a long suit. George W. Bush's "Decision Points" lays out in readable English how he confronted a number of the major crises and made decisions on key issues du ... read more
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